With three days in Osaka, you have plenty of time to deeply explore both the traditional and the modern sides of this laid-back city, as well as get out of town to one or two of Japan’s ancient capitals. Here are a few ways to see, taste, and otherwise experience the very best of Osaka in three days.
Day 1: City Sights and Bites
One of the best ways to see Osaka’s top sights and get your bearings is by embarking on a group or private tour by bus or by foot. Tours typically include stops at such must-sees as Osaka Castle, Shitennoji Temple, the Umeda Sky Building, and the colorful, neon-bright Dotonbori district. Some tours also include a river cruise. Other options include chartering a private bus, limo, or van, with a driver and optional guide, and creating your own itinerary for exploring Osaka’s sights. Alternatively, a hop-on hop-off bus and boat tour allows you to create your own sightseeing plan, disembarking at places of interest along the route. Tours usually include a public transit pass for further independent exploration.
In the evening, get a taste of Osaka’s famous eats on a street food tour of downtown. Feast on local classics including the takoyaki (battered octopus balls) for which the city is known.
Day 2: Explore Deeper
Now that you have seen the city’s main landmarks, delve deeper into local culture on a walking tour that is focused on a particular aspect of city life. You can take a tour that penetrates off-the-beaten-path, lesser-known neighborhoods or a tour focused on visiting Osaka’s most important temples and shrines. Other options include otaku (manga and anime enthusiast) tours that visit cosplay theaters, game shops, and maid cafés, as well as tours that teach the art of traditional Japanese skills such as the tea ceremony, sword techniques, or Japanese cooking.
For dinner tonight, indulge in another evening of culinary adventure on a small-group food and drink tour that takes you to hidden-away bars and restaurants to eat Osakan favorite dishes, such as kushikatsu (fried food on sticks) and tonpeiyaki (grilled pork and egg).
Day 3: Visit Kyoto and Nara
The ancient capital of Kyoto is an easy day trip from Osaka. On a full-day tour you can absorb the city’s traditional atmosphere, explore its rich culture and UNESCO World Heritage–listed sites, stroll through serene gardens, and marvel at such spectacular attractions as the seemingly endless torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, the 1,000-plus Bodhisattva statues at Sanjusangendo Hall, and the gleaming Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji). Tours often include hotel pickup and lunch.
Some full-day tours also include a visit to the charming nearby city of Nara, another of Japan’s ancient capitals, which is home to Todai-ji temple, an 8th-century structure that houses some of Japan’s national treasures. Nara is also known for its eponymous park, populated by more than 1,000 deer.